Monday, November 06, 2006

ComputerWorld: Undisclosed Flaws Undermine IT Defenses

I ran across this article today. All I can say is...sad.

Undisclosed flaws may undermine IT defenses...but that presupposes that the organization has some kind of "IT defenses" in place. Take the first sentence of the article:

Attacks targeting software vulnerabilities that haven’t been publicly disclosed pose a silent and growing problem for corporate IT.

Silent? The vulnerabilities themselves may be "silent", as they're just sitting there. But I have to ask...if someone attempts to exploit the vulnerability, is that silent, and if so, why?

One of my favorite examples of defense (the military analogies just don't work today, as there are simply more and more folks in the IT realm who don't have any military experience) is from the first Mission Impossible movie. Cruise's character, Ethan Hawke, has made his way back to a safehouse after the catastrophic failure of a mission. As he approaches the top of the stairs, he removes his jacket, unscrews the lightbulb from the socket, crushes the bulb inside his jacket, and scatters the shards on the floor as he walks backward to the door of his room. How is this defensive? If someone approaches the room, the hallway is dark and they end up stepping on the shards (which they can't see) and making noise...announcing their presence.

The problem is that there are great number of organizations out there that have very little in the way of protection, defense mechanisms, etc. Defense in depth includes not only putting a firewall in place, but patching/configuring systems, monitoring, etc. Many organizations have some of these in place, to varying degrees, and the ones that have more/most of them generally do not appear in the press.

This also highlights another issue near and dear to my heart...incident response. The current "state of IR" within most organizations is abysmal. Incidents get ignored, or the default reaction is to wipe the "victim" system and reinstall the operating system and data. This issue, as well as that of preparedness, can only be adequately addressed when senior management understands that IT and IT security are business processes, rather than necessary expenses of doing business. IT and in particular IT security/infosec can be business enablers, rather than drains to the bottom line, IF they are recognized as such by senior management. If organizations dedicated resources to IT and infosec the way they did to payroll, billing and collections, HR, etc., there would actually be IT defenses in place.

An interesting quote from a Gartner analyst is that much of the confusion about what constitutes a zero-day threat stems from the manner in which some security vendors have used the term when pitching their products. Remember, folks, it's all market-speak. Keep that in mind when you read/listen to "security vendors".

Another quote from the same analyst: But the reality is that most organizations “aren’t experiencing pain” from less-than-zero-day attacks. I firmly believe that this is perhaps partly true, due to the fact that many incidents simply go undetected. If an attack or incident is limited in scope and doesn't do anything to get the IT staff's attention, then it's likely that it simply isn't noticed, or if it is, it's simply ignored.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Heh, this article reminded me that I refuse to use the term "less-than-zero-day." I'll just call them all 0day and be done with it.